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Like just about any computer program out there, Illustrator has its fair share of Preferences settings. I'd like to take a moment just go over a few of them with you, ones that I think are really important when you think about creating web graphics inside of Illustrator. Now to open up my Preferences panel I am going to come over here to the Illustrator menu and I will open up the General panel. If you are on Windows, you can choose Edit > Preferences to open the General panel. The keyboard shortcut is Command+K on the Mac or Ctrl+K on Windows. Perhaps the most important setting of all when it comes to web design is this one right here called Use Preview Bounds.
Now normally when you create artwork inside of Illustrator we know that Illustrator creates its artwork out of anchor points and paths. For example, a simple rectangle is made up of four anchor points with paths that connect them. I also have the ability to add attributes to adjust the appearance of that path. Things, for example, like fills and strokes and by default Illustrator actually aligns the stroke weight or the width of the stroke to the center line of a path. So, for example, if I specify a stroke width of about two points or two pixels, Illustrator actually centers that stroke weight on the path itself, meaning that of that two-pixel stroke, one pixel is aligned towards the inside of the path, and the other pixel is aligned towards the outside of the path.
So just as a basic example if I were to create a 100 pixel x 100 pixel rectangle inside of Illustrator, the path would indeed be 100 x 100 pixels, but if I applied a two-pixel stroke weight to that object, the size of my rectangle when I export it out of Illustrator will actually be 102 pixels x 102 pixels. That's because of the added stroke weight. But here is the weird thing about Illustrator. You see by default if I were to actually click on that rectangle and look at the size of that rectangle in say the Transform panel, it would only show me the rectangle as being 100 x 100, even know when that artwork gets exported it will really be 102 x 102.
So if I want all the measurements to appear precise to me inside of Illustrator, I can turn on this setting called Use Preview Bounds. This setting tells Illustrator that when displaying the measurements of objects inside of the Transform panel don't use actual size of the path. Use the size of the appearance of the artwork in general, which includes the weight of the stroke. Let me give you an example. I am going to leave this setting turned off right now, I am going to click just OK, and I will create a new document here. Let's do a web-based document. Click OK. I am going to choose Window, and I will choose Transform to open up my Transform panel, and now I will take this rectangle here and just click once in the artboard.
I will make it a Width of 100 and a Height of 100 and click OK. Notice that right now in the Transform panel the Width and Height show as 100 pixels x 100 pixels. However, if I now go to File > Save for Web & Devices, I go to where it says Image Size and I turn off the Clip to Artboard setting and apply that. This way only the artwork actually gets exported, and I can see that the size of this graphic when it gets exported is actually 101 x 101. Why is that? If I click Cancel here, I can see that this rectangle actually has a one-point stroke applied to it.
So what I am seeing in the Transform panel is only representative of the path itself. That really doesn't help me too much. So I am going to press Command+K to open up my Preferences panel. I am going to turn on the Use Preview Bounds settings and click OK. Now you can see that the Transform panel shows me a Width and Height of 101 pixels x 101 pixels. So now the values that I see inside of Illustrator will be accurate, allowing me to ensure that the graphics that I create will always be perfect. After all, more so than just about any other kind of design when creating web graphics we need to ensure that our pixel measurements are perfect.
Another side benefit of turning on this Use Preview Bounds settings is that not only the Transform panel uses this setting, but the Align panel also uses it. By default, Illustrator aligns paths to each other. However, with the Use Preview Bounds settings on, the Align panel actually uses the appearance of that path for alignment, so once again I am going to get better results by having that option turned on. Let's take a look at a few other important settings and preferences that will help us when creating web graphics.
I am going to press Command+K to bring open the Preferences dialog box and I will click on the pop-up over here and choose to go to where it says Units. I want to make sure that where it says General my measurements are now set to pixels. This is actually the default setting when you use a web profile inside of Illustrator. However, you can see that the Stroke setting still uses points. When I know for sure that I am focused on web design, I like to make sure that I am always working inside of pixels. So where it says Stroke here I am going to change this to work with pixels as well. One of the main reasons why I like to do this is because many times in our brains as a designer we use varying weights or widths for our strokes.
So it's not uncommon for a Designer to use, for example, a stroke weight of about half a point. However, there is no such thing as a half of a pixel. When working with the web we have to use whole numbers. In fact, because of the Align to Pixel Grid setting that's on by default inside of Illustrator, when you are creating web graphics you won't even be able to specify fractional widths when defining stroke weight. For example, if you try to type in one-and-a- half points, it will change back to a whole number. Now for Type itself I am fine leaving that at Points right now because even as a web designer I don't always think about my type size in pixels.
I still think about that in point size. But in reality I know that in most cases the type that I create inside of Illustrator is just going to be re-created using CSS. So I am just going to leave it set to Points for now. Finally, in this pop-up menu I am now going to choose Guides & Grid. I just want to make sure that on the bottom here this setting called Show Pixel Grid is actually turned on. This means that when I am at 600% or higher in my zoom level a grid will appear inside of my document, letting me see the actual areas or boundaries for each of the pixels.
This will ultimately help me when I am looking at my artwork to make sure that the anti-aliasing is perfect. I will click OK to accept these preferences and now with these preferences in place we are sure to get what we expect when creating web graphics inside of Illustrator.
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